About five years after Whatzup began publishing, a Special Achievement Award became a semi-regular part of the Whammy Awards.
The first such award was given to Piere’s owner Stan Liddell, without whom Whatzup would never have survived its early years of publication. It was the advertising Liddell purchased and his belief in what the publication could bring to the arts and entertainment community in northeast Indiana that helped it achieve a history that now exceeds 23 years.
Following his death in 2013, the Special Achievement Award was renamed the H. Stanley Liddell Award.
The name of the award has changed, but the intent has not. It continues to honor “individuals who have made a uniquely significant contribution to the arts and culture of Fort Wayne and surrounding communities,” and it is now the result of past winners gathering each year to determine who should receive the honor for the following year.
The 2020 Awards were given to three recipients, all of whom have changed the arts landscape tremendously and have left a legacy that will be felt for years to come.
Born in Cleveland, Mark Minnick first came to Fort Wayne in 1972 to attend college. Always motivated by an entrepreneurial spirit, Minnick had already gotten his real estate broker’s license by 1974, ambitious for a young man still in college but also risky since 1974 was not a good year for the country’s economy.
He eventually started his own business, which has since blossomed into Minnick Services, a number of companies under one umbrella.
But Minnick is best known to the arts community in Fort Wayne through his work at C2G Music Hall. His route to that is unique.
“A mentor of mine asked if I was still interested in a ministry,” Minnick said. “I was, so I went to seminary in Chicago for four years. When I was done with that in 2000, I went on to receive a master’s in divinity degree. The typical pattern after you’ve done all of that is they’ll tell you where you’ll go to serve, but I said, ‘I’ll think about that and get back to you.’”
He began looking for a space and came upon an empty hall which had just gone on the market that day. The building, located on Baker Street, became Come 2 Go Ministries.
The place became popular for its focus on music and fellowship rather than services. But it was when one of Minnick’s friends, Brad Etter, suggested a performer that everything came into focus.
“Brad said that Richie Havens was playing at the Ark in Ann Arbor,” Minnick said. “He said we should call his agent and see if maybe Richie could come down here while he was in the area. As arrangements were being made and papers were being drawn up, we told them that the name of the venue was Come 2 Go Ministries, and we were told, ‘Richie don’t play no churches.’ So we said, ‘No, no, it’s actually C2G Music Hall.’”
The Havens show was a huge success, and since that time C2G has become a place for music that didn’t have an obvious home in the area. It also became a place for families to enjoy music together since it was among the first to allow all-ages audiences outside of venues like the Memorial Coliseum and the Embassy.
C2G has hosted a diverse roster of musical acts, particularly blues performers who might not otherwise have found a place to play in the city.
Now a well-established hot spot for music in Fort Wayne, Minnick is ready to hand the reins to a new generation.
“I’m 67, and it’s time for some other people to take over,” he said. “I’m ready to pass the baton, but it has to be someone with a passion for it. We have a lot of great volunteers and several organizational components. But the time is ripe for some younger people to step in and bring their passion to it.”
Leslie Hormann’s first exposure to Fort Wayne Youtheatre came when she was in fourth grade.
“I spent a lot of grade school standing in the hall because I was talking too much,” Hormann said. “My fourth-grade teacher suggested Youtheatre to my mother because she knew I needed an outlet for all of my talking and energy. But even before that, I was into performing. I would turn every book report at school into some sort of performance and would act out what the book was about.”
Encouraged by her teachers, Hormann began doing shows. Her activity in theater continued through high school but waned as she prepared for college.
“I didn’t want to be an actress,” she said. “I didn’t have that drive. When I went to college in Bloomington, I was completely out of theater.”
Hormann turned to her true calling and became a teacher, albeit one who used her performance chops to inspire her students. She also took charge of school plays at her stops in the Fort Wayne Community School system, including Forest Park, Ward, and Weisser Park.
After becoming a mother, she stopped teaching and eventually found herself a new gig as radio partner to Doc West at WXKE. It was her unique combination of interests and experiences that led to a sudden career shift.
“I got a call from Linda Ruffalo, who was an old friend of my parents and was the chair on an emergency board that was called in to save Youtheatre,” Hormann said. “They were in trouble then. They hadn’t made payroll in two years, and I was asked to come in and become the managing director.”
That first year, 2010, was a challenge. Fort Wayne Youtheatre did not even own a computer. They were unable to accept credit card payments for their performances. Bringing Youtheatre into the 21st century was Hormann’s top priority.
“My first ask was for a computer,” she said. “I applied for a grant from the Community Foundation, and Arts United helped me find a good used computer. They were very supportive through all of it.
“It’s really like running a presidential campaign. You look for as much free marketing as you can find. Up until then there were no classes at Youtheatre for preschoolers, and with my background in education, I wanted to bring that component into it more. We ended up doubling our enrollment that first year I was there.”
After that first year, Fort Wayne Youtheatre was in the black, a remarkable turnaround. Under Hormann’s leadership, enrollment continued to grow, and the Young Heroes of Conscience Series, written and directed by Gregory Stieber, was created. Now retired from Youtheatre and residing primarily in Florida, Hormann continues to come back and connect with the place that saved her from standing in the hall at school.
“I’m still helping with the development committee and host some fundraising events,” she said. “I’ll always be available to donate my time to Youtheatre.”
What can you do with a degree in English literature? Christopher Guerin, who earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in the subject at Northern Illinois University, used his to push the Fort Wayne Philharmonic to the world-class level it now enjoys.
While at NIU, which is located in the Chicago suburb of Dekalb, Guerin met his future wife Ruth. After finishing his graduate work, he moved to Chicago to be close to her. Following their marriage, they relocated to Colorado Springs where Ruth, a goldsmith and jeweler, had found a job. Soon Christopher would find a job of his own.
“I actually sort of stumbled into a job with the Colorado Springs Symphony,” he said. “They hired me to be a writer, but I moved into operations and marketing director and spent six years there. Then Fort Wayne came calling, and when they first approached me about the job my first reaction was, ‘I don’t want to live in Texas.’ I had no idea Fort Wayne was in Indiana.”
Guerin moved into the role of general manager at the Fort Wayne Philharmonic which ultimately became executive director, a job he held from 1985 until 2005. During that time he brought changes and new traditions to the Phil, things many might take for granted.
“I created Holiday Pops,” he said. “They didn’t have anything like that before. We launched that in 1986, and it’s become such a family tradition now which is very important to me.
“Just as important is that I raised the annual budget from $900,000 to $4 million, which is twice the size of any city of our size with the same population. What makes that important is that we were able to hire 44 full-time musicians where we had only 18 before. That improved the quality of the orchestra. I was always incredibly proud of how well the orchestra played, and that comes from having full-time musicians who play together all the time.”
Guerin also began a relationship with the Fort Wayne Ballet. Each year the Philharmonic perform with the ballet for three of their annual performances of The Nutcracker, and the spring ballet (this year it will be A Midsummer Night’s Dream) is a full collaboration, with the orchestra accompanying all four performances.
His success led to many offers to move on to other orchestras, but Guerin chose to stay in Fort Wayne. By 2005, however, he was ready for new challenges.
“I had been with the Philharmonic for 20 years and working with orchestras for 26,” he said. “That’s a lot of concerts and cocktail parties and babysitters, and Ruth was great and put up with all of it. But it was time to have some weekends off.”
In 2006, Guerin found a new career home at Sweetwater Sound where he remained until he retired in 2018. He continues to serve the community, working on several boards including the Redevelopment Commission.
Last year, Guerin published My Human Disguise, a collection of 200 sonnets, and he’s looking for a publisher for a collection of his short stories, something else one can do with a degree in English literature.
“I still write everyday,” he said. “The TV does not go on until 5:30 when I’m done writing.”
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